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Goalies' Matchup Has a Texas Accent

A Pair of Lone Star Friends in the Nets for RPI, Cornell

By Jon Paul Morosi

Albany Times Union, January 14, 2005

TROY - Andrew Martin went out for freshman football, as any able-bodied Texan should.

He was the third-string quarterback - proof, he thought, that this wasn't his sport. Late that season, the 14-year-old knocked sheepishly on his coach's door to deliver an odd, borderline sacrilegious, bit of news.

"Coach," Martin said, "I can't play this week."

The coach had to be shocked. This, after all, was Texas high school football. A boy has only so many nights from which to draw a lifetime of tales - be they real, exaggerated, or make-believe. What could possibly be more important than that?

"Hockey," Martin told him. "I have a hockey game."

You can imagine the door closing, the coach sighing, and the words coming from beneath his ball cap: "That ain't right. That just ain't right."

Turns out, the boy was right. Hockey has been good to Martin, now a senior goaltender at RPI. He has enjoyed scholarship money. He has made lifelong friends. He'll see one of them, Cornell goaltender David McKee, Saturday night at Houston Field House.

McKee, of Irving, has played all 47 games since arriving on campus last season and is a virtual lock to start. Martin, of Plano, has alternated with Jordan Alford this season. If he starts, Saturday could mark the first meeting of Texan goaltenders in ECAC Hockey League history.

Martin believes he is the first person raised in Texas to become a Division I hockey player. "I know I was the first person from our area, and we're the first area in Texas to really have hockey," he said. "I really think I'm the first."

Yale coach Tim Taylor, an ECACHL fixture since he enrolled at Harvard in 1959, cannot remember a meeting between two Texan goaltenders, in the ECACHL or otherwise. Neither can Joe Bertagna, the current Hockey East commissioner and fellow Eastern hockey sage.

This much is certain: The anecdotal history of Lone Star puck-stoppers is as brief as Texas is big. Martin and McKee are originals, even though they have mimicked one another. Both have Lone Stars on their goalie masks. Both are called "Tex" by teammates, although McKee's nickname has faded, much like his accent.

The two became friends while playing for the Dallas Stars, a Triple-A Midget team. The Stars flew to nearly every game, often playing in Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal - a little different than, say, the Albany-Schenectady basketball rivalry. Martin and McKee rotated in goal and roomed together on the road. "We were joined at the hip," Martin said.

Cornell and RPI played twice last season, but Martin looked on as then-senior Nathan Marsters played. "I've been looking forward to this for awhile," McKee said. "Hopefully he'll get his chance."

Martin, whose father grew up in Coxsackie, began his hockey career in high tops and rollerblades. He was a good roller hockey goaltender but didn't play ice hockey until he was a 14-year-old freshman at Dallas Jesuit.

"It was the first sport people told me I was a natural at," Martin said.

McKee, who said he wasn't good at "typical Texas sports," has been on the ice since age 10. His father, a Texas native and lifelong hockey fan, bought Stars season tickets as soon as they moved to Dallas in 1993. David refused his father's offer to attend the opener, but went along the next night. On the ride home, he told his father he wanted to be a goaltender.

McKee's parents, Carl and Pat, haven't missed a game since. They've immersed themselves in Cornell's puck-crazed community and spread the hockey gospel at home. They have a rental house in Ithaca and bring friends to David's games at Lynah Rink, the Fenway Park of college hockey.

"The first time I went to a Cornell game, I was in awe," Carl said. "I'm a big believer that sports fans should get out and see everything - the Indy 500, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby. I've seen all that, and there's nothing like Lynah Rink."

David has adjusted to left-leaning Ithaca - "They only bring in liberal music artists, so I see how they swing," he said - and enjoys living with teammates Kevin McLeod, Mark McCutcheon, Dan Glover and Ryan O'Byrne.

Tonight, he hopes to play against one of his old roommates, in a game that would further validate the sport's growth in their home state.

"It has come quite a long way," Martin said.